The Empire Builders: NFSA Digital Restoration

The Empire Builders: NFSA Digital Restoration
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A scene from the NFSA Restores 2K digital restoration of The Empire Builders (Duke Worne, USA, 1924).

This silent film with English intertitles was the second film made by Reg L 'Snowy' Baker in the USA. It is set during the Second Boer War, starring Baker as Captain William Ballard of the British Army Territorials. Ballard is sent to make a treaty, but he meets with resistance.

We restored the film in collaboration with Haghefilm Digitaal in the Netherlands, completing a new HD scan of a 35mm tinted nitrate negative following an extensive clean-up of the image. Unfortunately the source components for the start of the film were so badly deteriorated as to be unusable. To fix this problem, we used a 16mm print that had been donated to the NFSA in the 1980s as a substitute source for the early deteriorated sections.

Snowy Baker is one of the greatest all-round athletes in Australian sporting history and all his skills are on display in The Empire Builders, his third partnership with prolific Hollywood producer Phil Goldstone. Also starring Hollywood silent film starlet Margaret Landis, the film features Snowy's trademark stunts, equestrian skills and some spectacular dives that thrilled cinema audiences, particularly in Australia where it was a big hit.

While Baker only made two more major films – The Sword of Valor (Duke Worne, USA, 1924) and Fighter's Paradise (Alvin J Neitz, USA, 1924) – he found a new career as manager of the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. There he taught Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn sword and fencing techniques and coached the 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in horseriding for National Velvet (Clarence Brown, USA, 1944).